Getting a Degree of Financial Security

June 14, 2021

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Luis Puente

Luis Puente

Financial Education

2711 LBJ Freeway
Suite 300
Farmers Branch, TX 75234

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April 26, 2021

Pay Yourself First!

Pay Yourself First!

Pay yourself first!

Why? Because it can help you take control of your finances and reach your goals. But what does it mean to “pay yourself first?” It means the very first thing you should do with your paycheck is put money towards saving, then use what’s left for bills, and then finally for personal spending. Let’s break down how—and why—you should pay yourself first in 3 steps!

Step 1: Figure out your goals. What are you saving up for? Knowing what goal you’re trying to reach can help guide how much money should go towards it—saving for retirement would look different than saving for a downpayment on a house. Having a goal can also give you the motivation and inspiration you need to start saving in earnest. Write down your goal or goals, and start planning accordingly.

Step 2: Make a budget that prioritizes saving. When you’re creating your budget, the first category you should create is saving. Then, figure out how much rent, bills, food, and transportation will cost. Whatever you have left can go towards discretionary spending.

Your focus should be to treat saving like a mandatory bill. It’s a simple mental trick that can help you prioritize your financial goals and help make it much easier to say no when you’re tempted to overspend. You actually might literally not have the cash on hand because you’re saving it!

Step 3: Automate your saving. Once you’ve got your savings goal in place, automate the process. Whether it’s through an app or automatic deposits from your checking into a savings account, automating saving helps make building wealth so much easier. You can start building wealth without even thinking about it! Just be sure to automate your deposits to initiate right after your paycheck comes in. It removes the temptation to cheat yourself and overspend.

Remember, this doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Just because you can’t save a massive amount each month doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! It’s about saving as much as you can. And paying yourself first with your paycheck is an easy way to start!

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April 12, 2021

Home Buying for Couples: A Starter Guide

Home Buying for Couples: A Starter Guide

Buying your first home is an exciting, yet daunting process.

You and your significant other already have a lot on your plate in planning this huge purchase—from deciding how much house you need to fitting it all into a budget. Read on for some tips that will help ease the process of buying a house as well as help you save money in the long run!

Evaluate your financial situation before you start house hunting. It’s important to know what kind of mortgage payment is feasible for the income in a household. You’ll also have to contend with hidden housing costs like property taxes, renovations, and repairs. Calculate your total income, and then subtract your current expenses. That’s how much you have at your disposal to handle the costs of homeownership.

Improve your credit score. If you’re a first-time homebuyer, your credit score is important—it can profoundly affect your ability to get approved for loans and mortgages! The higher that number goes up, the easier it may become to get approval from lenders. You can help yourself out by paying off any outstanding debt balances such as student loan payments, medical bills, and credit card debt before going house hunting.

Start saving for a downpayment. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to put down at least 20% of the home’s purchase price. This can take years, especially if your budget is tight! However, it’s well worth it—you may avoid the hassle of paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), which can substantially add to your monthly housing payments. A sizeable downpayment can also lower your interest rate and reduce the size of your loan.¹

Decide how much house you need. This is a tough question to answer, but it’s crucial that both partners are united on this front. Otherwise, one partner might feel like a house doesn’t meet their needs. Sit down with your partner and discuss what exactly you desire out of your home. How many bedrooms will you need? Do you want a big yard or a small one? How close to work do you want to live? Hammer out the important details of what you want in a home before the shopping begins!

Decide on your budget. Knowing how much you can afford before shopping for a home will help narrow down the options. Typically, housing costs should account for no more than 30% of your budget. That includes your mortgage payment, repairs, HOA fees, and renovations. Spending more than 30% can endanger your financial wellness if your income ever decreases.

Buying a home can be an exciting time for couples. But it’s important to take the necessary steps before you start house hunting. Remember, you want your new home to be a source of joy, not financial stress! Do your homework, talk with your partner, and start saving!

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“Do you need to put 20 percent down on a house?,” Michele Lerner, HSH, Sep 2, 2018, https://www.hsh.com/first-time-homebuyer/down-payment-size.html

March 29, 2021

Personal Finance Moves For Small Business Owners

Personal Finance Moves For Small Business Owners

As a small business owner, you’re responsible for everything—from saving on office supplies to making sure folks get paid to knowing what taxes to file and when.

A big part of success is educating yourself on how your personal finances affect your business and vice versa. Here are a few moves that can help keep your personal finances healthy while you grow your business.

Keep track of your monthly income and expenses. Your business income can vary dramatically from month to month, depending on the season, number of sales, trends in your market, etc. These could potentially cause your average bottom line to be lower than anticipated.

That’s why it’s critical to track your monthly income and then budget accordingly. As your income grows and shrinks, you can adjust your spending.

Set up an emergency fund. This money can be used to cover unexpected costs, such as unanticipated repairs or an illness. But, when you own a business, it can also help you make ends meet if business is slow or, say, if a global pandemic shuts down the world economy. Save up 6 months’ worth of spending in an account you can easily access in a pinch!

Know what you owe, to whom, and when it is due. Personal debt can be a serious challenge for small business owners. It may motivate them to make foolish financial decisions to pay off what they owe, regardless of the consequences.

That’s why it’s important to manage your finances responsibly so that debt doesn’t become a problem. Adopt a debt management strategy to reduce your debt ASAP. Your business may benefit greatly from it.

Get professional advice if you need help with your finances. If it’s at all feasible for your business’s budget, get a professional set of eyes on your books. They’ll help you navigate the world of finances, share strategies that can help make the most of your revenue, and show you how to position yourself for future success!

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March 24, 2021

Tips For Saving Money At The Grocery Store

Tips For Saving Money At The Grocery Store

Every penny counts, especially when you’re trying to balance your monthly budget.

But unless you plan ahead and only buy things you need, it’s easy to overspend at the grocery store. If you keep these tips in mind when you’re shopping, you can save money without sacrificing quality.

Bring a list of what you need to buy. Why? Because a list keeps you on task. You’ll be far less likely to wander the store, spying things you don’t need and snapping them up, if you go with a clear plan of what you need to buy. Make a list, check it twice, and shop with a purpose!

Buy in bulk when it makes sense for your family size and lifestyle. If you have a big family, buying in bulk can save you big money, especially if items are on sale! But don’t just buy anything that seems like a good deal—only buy what your family will consume, and be sure to store it properly. That means non-perishable food items, hygiene and cleaning products, and home supplies.

Compare the unit price. A low sticker price doesn’t always indicate it’s the best buy. Always check the unit price to maximize your savings. The cheaper it is per ounce, pound, or unit, the better bargain it probably will be!

Use coupons and sales flyers when available. It’s simple—just download your favorite store’s app and look for the savings or coupon page. All you have to do is tap the items that you want to save on. Then, just scan your phone when you check out and watch the savings!

Rack up loyalty points when possible. Afterall, why shouldn’t you be rewarded for your usual shopping? Just scan your card every time you shop, and eventually you can earn free or discounted items. However, be careful that you don’t increase your spending to maximize your rewards!

Why not try one of these tips for just a month and see how much you save? It’s a worthwhile experiment that may result in a substantial boost in your cash flow. Let me know how it goes!

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March 22, 2021

How to Manage High Costs of Living

How to Manage High Costs of Living

It’s no secret that living in a larger city can be more expensive than in other areas.

Depending on where you live, the cost of buying groceries, public transportation, and even rent can vary drastically! If you want to learn how to manage your finances when living in an area with a higher cost of living, read on…

Lower your housing costs. Keeping a roof over your head is probably your number one expense, especially if you live in a major city. The most straightforward way to free up cash flow, then, is to downsize your apartment or home size.

While that sounds simple, it’s not always easy, particularly if you own a house! But if your budget is too tight and it’s at all possible, moving to a cheaper home or apartment can be the single most effective way to cut your spending and increase your cash flow.

Consider moving to a cheaper area. To find less costly housing, you may choose to relocate to a new neighborhood. But be sure to keep tabs on the price of daily expenses like groceries or increased transportation costs in your new stomping grounds—just because housing is cheaper doesn’t mean everything else will be!

Take on a second job, like freelancing, dog walking, or babysitting. Fortunately, living in a high cost of living area might mean you have access to plenty of part-time or side work. Check out sites like Upwork, and leverage your social networks to find viable gigs.

If you live in an area that’s high cost and has poor employment opportunities, you may need to consider relocating entirely.

Trim your budget. Try using a free budgeting app like Mint or PocketGuard for this one! They’re easy-to-use tools that can help you identify problematic spending patterns. Once you know where you’re wasting money, you can develop a strategy for cutting costs.

Coping with a high cost of living can be challenging, especially if you love the lifestyle of a big city or your work requires you to live in a certain area. Using these strategies can help reduce the burden of living in an expensive neighborhood. Which one would be easiest for you to apply to your financial life?

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March 10, 2021

How to Reduce Debt

How to Reduce Debt

Paying off debt can be a great feeling.

The burden is lifted and you have more control over your financial situation. If you’re like many, however, paying down debt hasn’t been an easy task due to high interest rates and the sheer size of what you owe. Many people find themselves in situations where they feel helpless. But following some tips from this article can show you a path towards financial health!

Start by making a budget. Write down your income on a piece of paper or spreadsheet. Then, calculate how much you spend, on average, every month. If you can, categorize all of your expenses in order of amount spent. Be sure to also rank your debts from highest to lowest interest rate!

Then, subtract your expenses from your income. The result is how much cash flow you have available to attack your debt.

But before you start chipping away at what you owe, devote your cash flow to building an emergency fund. Why? Because it will provide a cash reserve to pay for unexpected expenses that you might otherwise cover with more debt!

Then, focus all your financial resources on your highest interest loan. Make minimum payments on all your debts until that top priority debt is eliminated. Next, move on to the next debt. Rinse and repeat until you’re debt free.

Track your spending and cut back where possible. When you budget, you might find that you have almost no cash flow. If that’s the case, you’ll need to reduce your spending. Start by cutting back on categories like clothes shopping and dining out.

Above all, be consistent! Reducing debt is no easy task but it’s doable. Cutting back on your spending and consistently budgeting may not be easy in the short-term, but the sense of relief that comes with being debt free is well worth the effort.

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February 17, 2021

Spend Less or Earn More?

Spend Less or Earn More?

What’s the most effective way to meet your financial goals—increasing your income or cutting your spending?

The answer? It depends on your situation. While both strategies can be useful, they’re not interchangeable. Read on to discover the advantages and limitations of each approach… and which one may be right for you.

Spending less: An immediate solution with a fixed floor. There’s no doubt that cutting expenses is the fastest way to move closer to your financial goals. Canceling a streaming service, clipping digital coupons on your phone, and carpooling are simple lifestyle adjustments that take only seconds or minutes to accomplish.

But stricter budgeting can only go so far. Moving back in with your parents, walking to work, and never having fun again may still not be enough. There’s only so much you can cut before you seriously decrease your quality of life!

Earning more: High effort, massive potential. On the surface, increasing your income can seem like a daunting task. Developing your skills, working an extra job and starting a side hustle or business can be labor and time intensive. Furthermore, some of those investments may not pay off immediately—a business or side gig may not generate significant income for weeks, months, or even years!

But those investments also have massive payoff potential. Once you’ve mastered a skill, your earning power is only limited by the market demand for your abilities and your time. And as you grow more and more competent, your potential to earn only increases.

The takeaway? Spending less is a quick and simple move towards your financial goals. But, over the long-term, earning more has far more potential to create the wealth you desire. If you need to quickly increase your cash flow, create a budget and reduce your excess spending. But when your financial situation stabilizes, take inventory of your skills. You might be surprised by how many money earning talents you have, if you take the time to cultivate them!

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February 8, 2021

3 Steps to Reduce Debt with Limited Income

3 Steps to Reduce Debt with Limited Income

Is your income holding you back from paying down debt?

It may feel like necessities such as housing, groceries, and transportation are consuming your cash flow. So how can you pay down debt if you feel like you’re struggling to put food on the table?

Reducing debt with a limited income is certainly a challenge. But if you know the right strategies, it’s an obstacle that you can work to overcome. Read on for tips that can help you pay down debt, regardless of how much you earn.

Budget debt payments first. The next time you sit down to budget, start by allocating money for reducing your debt. It should be your number one priority. Then, budget for essential living expenses like housing, utilities, and groceries. If you need more cash flow, cut down on non-essential spending like dining out and purchasing new clothes.

Start a side gig. If cutting expenses alone doesn’t free up enough cash, explore ways to make more money. That doesn’t always mean starting a second job—after all, this is the golden age of side gigs! Here are just a few hustle ideas for your consideration…

■ Resell books, clothes, and shoes you might pick up from the thrift store on eBay ■ Rideshare or deliver groceries and food ■ House sit, baby sit, or pet sit for friends and neighbors

Ultimately, your ability to earn income is only limited by your creativity in solving problems. What other opportunities are there for you to help others and earn extra income?

Make more than minimum payments. Your debt will linger if you make only minimum payments. That’s because minimum payments are nearly erased by interest. You make a payment, but the interest may put you almost right back where you started.

Instead, choose one debt to eliminate at a time. You should start with the one with the smallest total balance or the highest interest rate. Keep making the minimum payments on your other debts, and target that one debt with the rest of your available financial resources. Once it’s gone, choose the next smallest balance. Rinse and repeat until your debts are gone.

The biggest takeaway is that if you’re working with a limited income, paying off debt has to become your number one financial goal. Devote as much of your budget towards it as possible and increase your earnings if you have to. But it’s well worth the effort—once your debt is gone, you’ll have significantly more income for building real wealth!

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January 20, 2021

What All Early Retirees Have in Common

What All Early Retirees Have in Common

Early retirees track both their net worth and annual spending… and you should too!

Why? Because those two pieces of information are critical to evaluating your current financial situation and understanding what separates you from your financial goals.

Retiring early takes meticulous preparation, a willingness to sacrifice temporary comfort, and consistency. Every financial decision must effectively move you closer to your goal or you run the risk of failure.

Ignorance about your net worth hampers your ability to make certain financial decisions wisely. It may cause you to save less, if you assume your net worth is closer to your retirement goal than it actually is. When the time comes to retire, you’ll be in for a shock!

Failing to monitor your expenses can lead to a similar outcome. What if you never identify the expenses that eat up the majority of your cash flow? You might swear off lattes or designer clothes, but you might miss bigger saving opportunities. There’s a reason that so many early retirees cut back on housing, transportation, and food–they’re the biggest drains on cash flow!¹

Here’s the takeaway—imitate early retirees and regularly evaluate your net worth and spending, regardless of when you plan to retire.

Knowing what you’re worth and what’s eating up your cash flow empowers you to make effective decisions that bring you closer to your lifestyle goals.

What’s your financial status? How close are you to achieving your goals? And what’s standing in your way?

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January 18, 2021

3 Strategies to Increase Your Credit Score

3 Strategies to Increase Your Credit Score

Is your credit score costing you money?

A recent survey found that increasing a credit score from “Fair” to “Very Good” could save borrowers an average of $56,400 across five common loan types like credit cards, auto loans, and mortgages.¹ That’s roughly $316 in extra monthly cash flow!

If your credit score is anything but “Very Good,” keep reading. You’ll discover some simple strategies that may seriously help improve your credit score and increase your cash flow.

Pay your bills at the strategic time. <br> Credit utilization makes up a big portion of your credit score, sometimes up to 30%.¹ The closer your balance is to your credit limit, the higher your credit utilization. The lower your utilization, the less you’re using your available credit. Creditors view a lower utilization as an indicator that you’re responsible with managing your credit.

Here’s a simple way to lower your credit utilization–ask your creditors for when your balance is shared with credit reporting agencies. Then, automate your bill payments to just before that day. When credit reporting agencies review your balances, they’ll see lower numbers because you just paid them down. That can result in a lower credit utilization and a higher credit score!

Automate debt and bill payments. <br> Late payments for your credit card bill, phone bill, and utilities can negatively affect your credit score. If you have a habit of paying your bills late, consider automating as many of your payments as possible. It’s a convenient and simple way to make your finances more manageable and help increase your credit score in a single swoop!

Leave old credit accounts open. <br> So long as they don’t require a monthly fee, leave old and unused credit accounts open. Any open line of credit, even if it’s unused, increases the amount of available credit you have at your disposal. And not using that credit lowers your overall credit utilization, which can help increase your credit score.

Closing unused credit accounts does the opposite. It lowers your available credit and spikes your credit utilization, especially if you have large balances in other accounts. So if you have credit cards you don’t use anymore, leave those accounts open and hide the cards in a place where they won’t tempt you to start spending!

The best part about these strategies? You can act on them all today. Ask your creditors when your balance is shared with credit reporting agencies, then automate your deposits to go through right before that day.

When you’re done automating your payments, put your unused credit cards into a plastic bag and put them deep into your freezer. In just a few hours, you’ll have set yourself up to increase your credit score and save money!

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January 11, 2021

Simple Ways to Streamline Your Budget

Simple Ways to Streamline Your Budget

Is your budgeting system slowing your financial progress?

It’s not hard to tell if it is. Consistently ignoring your budget and failing to see results like increased cash flow and reduced debt could be indicators that something’s wrong.

Fortunately, it’s not hard to streamline your budgeting process. Here are two simple steps you can take to make your budget more manageable and more effective.

Prioritize your short-term budgeting goals <br> Splitting your cash flow between non-discretionary spending, savings, your emergency fund, and debt reduction may make you feel like you’ve got all the bases covered, but spreading yourself too thin might actually be diminishing the power of your money. It creates a house of cards that’s waiting to collapse!

Instead of trying to knock out everything at the same time, your budget should reflect your current financial situation. Prioritize where you put your money for the goal you’re trying to achieve. Start by putting all your excess cash flow towards an emergency fund. Then, target your debt. And finally, start directing your income towards building wealth. You’ll more effectively clear the obstacles that block the way towards financial independence.

Automate everything <br> What if there were a way to automatically make wise financial decisions without even thinking about it? That’s the power of automation.

Once you’ve determined your short-term budgeting goal, set up automatic deposits that move you closer towards achieving it. If you’re building an emergency fund, set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to a high-interest savings account every payday. You can do the same with essential bills and utilities as well.

Once you prioritize and automate your budget, there’s a great chance that you’ll see real progress towards your goals. And once you see progress you’ll feel empowered, maybe even excited, to keep pushing towards building wealth and creating financial independence.

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December 28, 2020

More financial tips for the new year

More financial tips for the new year

There’s nothing like the start of a brand new year to put you in a resolution-making, goal-setting, slate-cleaning kind of mood.

Along with your commitment to eat less sugar and exercise a little more, carve out some time to set a few financial aspirations for the new year. Here are some quick tips that may add up to significant benefits for you and your family.

Check your credit report
Start the new year with a copy of your credit report. Every consumer is entitled to one free credit report per year. Make it a point to get yours. Your credit report determines your credit score, so an improved score may help you get a better interest rate on an auto loan or a better plan for utilities or your phone.

Check your credit report carefully for accuracy. If you find anything that shouldn’t be there, you can file a dispute to have it removed. There are several sites where you can get your free credit report – just don’t get duped into paying for it.

Up your 401(k) contributions
The start of a new year is a great time to review your retirement strategy and up your 401(k) contributions. If saving for retirement is on your radar right now – as it should be – see if it works in your budget to increase your 401(k) contribution a few percentage points.

Review your health insurance policy
The open enrollment period for your health insurance may occur later in the year, so make a note on your calendar now to explore your health insurance options beforehand. If you have employer-sponsored health insurance, they should give you information about your plan choices as the renewal approaches. If you provide your own health insurance, you may need to talk to your representative or the health insurance company directly to assess your coverage and check how you might be able to save with a different plan.

Make sure your coverage is serving you well. If you have a high deductible plan, see if you can set up a health savings account. An HSA will allow you to put aside pretax earnings for covered health care costs throughout the year.

No spend days
Consider implementing “no spend days” into your year. Select one day per month (or two if you’re brave) and make it a no spend day. This only works well if you make it non-negotiable! A no spend day means no spur of the moment happy hours, going out to lunch, or engaging in so-called retail therapy.

A no spend day may help you save a little money, but the real gift is what you may learn about your spending habits.

Do some financial goal setting
Whether we really stick to them or not, many of us might be pretty good at setting career goals, family goals, and health and fitness goals. But when it comes to formulating financial goals, some of us might not be so great at that. Still, financial goal setting is essential, because just like anything else, you can’t get there if you’re not sure where you’re going.

Start your financial goal setting by knowing where you want to go. Have some debt you want to pay off? Looking to own a home? Want to retire in the next ten years? Those are great financial goals, but you’ll need a solid strategy to get there.

If you’re having trouble creating a financial strategy, consider working with a qualified financial professional. They can help you draw your financial roadmap.

Clean out your financial closet
Financial tools like budgets, savings strategies, and household expenses need to be revisited. Think of your finances like a closet that should be cleaned out at least once a year. Open it up and take everything out, get rid of what’s no longer serving you, and organize what’s left.

Review your household budget
Take a good look at your household budget. Remember, a budget should be updated as your life changes, so the beginning of a new year is an excellent time to review it. Don’t have a budget? An excellent goal would be to create one! A budget is one of the most useful financial tools available. It’s like an x-ray that reveals your income and spending habits so you can see and track changes over time.

Make this year your financial year
A new year is a great time to do a little financial soul searching. Freshen up your finances, revisit your financial strategies, and greet the new year on solid financial footing.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, health insurance representative, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

December 23, 2020

Ways to Curb Holiday Spending

Ways to Curb Holiday Spending

More than 174 million Americans spent an average of $335.47 between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday this year. And the holidays are just getting started!

You and your wallet don’t have to suffer if you follow these simple ways to curb holiday spending. Well, ways to curb the rest of your holiday spending.

1. Decide beforehand how much you’re going to spend on gifts. Yes: Budget. This is one of the most spoken of tricks to curb spending, but do you actually follow through? Before you ever start your holiday spending, have a firm plan about what you’re willing to spend, and do not go a penny over. If you’re one of the millions mentioned above that already spend a good chunk of cash, be sure to take that into account when you set your new amount. A budget can help get the creative gift-giving juices flowing, too. Remember White Elephant parties where no one could bring a gift that cost over $15? There had to be a little extra thought involved: What would be an unforgettable gift that would fit right into your budget?

2. Dine in. When you’ve budgeted for picking up the tab on a big family meal outing, it can be no sweat! But when you haven’t, the cost can really sneak up on you. Say you venture out with a party of 15 family members. At $10 an entree plus appetizers, desserts, cups of cocoa for the kids, eggnog or something harder for grown ups, and any other extras… Whew, that’s going to be a credit card statement to remember! But what if you instead planned a night in with the whole family? A potluck or pizza night. The warmth and comfort of home. Baking cookies. Still with cups of cocoa and eggnog, but at a fraction of the cost. And with much more comfortable chairs.

3. Stay with relatives when you travel home for the holidays. This practice is standard for some, but if this suggestion makes your face flush and your blood run cold, this may help you change your mind: the average hotel stay costs $127.69 per night. That’s not including taxes and fees. Let’s say you head to the town where you grew up for 4 days and 3 nights. The 3 nights at a hotel are going to cost you…

$127.69 x 3 = $383.07

Add in tax and hotel fees as well as the daily cost of gas to and from the hotel, and the thought of a few nights spent in your childhood bedroom that now has the surprise treadmill-as-a-clothing-rack addition might not be so terrible.

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December 16, 2020

Save Money This Holiday Season

Save Money This Holiday Season

Have you ever looked at your wish list and thought you heard a muffled scream coming from your wallet?

Inevitably, someone you love will wish for a $1,000 t-shirt or a chocolate fountain. And because you love them, you might go with it. But when December 26th rolls around and the ripped up wrapping paper settles, your wallet might feel a little battered and bruised!

The holidays don’t have to derail your financial future. Here are some straightforward tips that will help keep you on track during your annual shopping spree.

Establish a holiday budget <br> Entering a department store without a cap on how much you’re willing to spend is like walking into a bakery when you’re on a diet. Could you resist picking up a dozen donuts “for the family” or a couple of fresh baked loaves of bread “to make sandwiches later”?

A gift list and realistic budget can cut through the feverish fog of free-for-all shopping and impulse buys. They help you focus as you navigate aisle upon aisle of half-off sales and shiny things you don’t really need but feel like you do.

A budget can also help curtail extravagant gift requests. Telling someone that you want to buy them a gift that’s under $50 can hedge against extravagant designer clothes or the latest technological gadget.

Use cash! <br> Part of the power of cash is that it works in tandem with your budget. Walking into a store with no cards and just $50 limits your spending and forces you to buy only what you intended.

Cash also reduces your reliance on credit. Unleashing your cards to cover Christmas shopping is an easy way to enter the New Year with extra debt. Plus, the interest payments can add up and make your holiday shopping even more expensive in the long run. Stick with cash and save yourself the headache!

Play Secret Santa <br> Secret Santa has long been a staple of huge families that don’t have the time or money to get gifts for two parents, nine siblings, the in-laws, and all the cousins, nieces, and nephews. Everyone still gets a gift or two, but it helps the whole family out on their holiday budgets. Here’s how it works!

Have everyone write their names on scraps of paper. Include some highly specific gift ideas with the names. Then, put all the paper into a hat and shake it up. Have the secret Santas choose names from the hat one at a time. You get to buy gifts for ONLY the person you select!

What’s great about Secret Santa is that the mystery of the game offsets the expectation of getting tons of presents. It’s a fun way to save some extra cash!

So let chance decide who’s been naughty and nice, make a budget and list and check them twice, remember that some cash will suffice, and do some holiday shopping that won’t make you think twice (about derailing your financial dreams)!

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December 14, 2020

Good Financial Decisions You Can Make Today

Good Financial Decisions You Can Make Today

Are you afraid to fix your finances?

It’s understandable if you are! Confronting a bad spending habit or debt problem can feel overwhelming and uncomfortable.

But leaving financial issues unresolved is never a good idea. Little annoyances become serious threats if you don’t take initiative to nip them in the bud!

Fortunately, there are dozens of simple financial decisions that you can make today. Here are some of the most important ones!

Save anything you can, no matter how small <br> If you stash away a single dollar, you’re already ahead of the game. Half of all Americans had zero dollars (you read that correctly) saved before the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020.¹

Anything that you’ve put away where you can’t spend it is a good thing, even if it’s a dollar. Putting money away regularly is even better. You might literally have only $1 to start. That’s fine! It’s the thought (i.e., habit) that counts, and you’ll already be closer to financial stability than many people in the country.

Don’t gamble <br> Americans might not be great at saving, but we sure do love playing the lottery! We spend, on average, $1,000 per year on precious tickets and scratch-offs.² Yikes! You’ll probably get struck by lightning or crushed by falling airplane debris before you win a powerball.³

If you don’t play the lottery now, don’t start. If you do play (which should fall in your budget under “fun fund”), write out how much you’ve spent on tickets vs. how much you’ve won. That’s a ratio to always keep in mind!

Eat at home <br> Regularly eating out can devour your income. We spend about $232 monthly at our favorite restaurants, or about $2,784 annually.⁴ There’s nothing wrong with occasionally enjoying a meal out at your favorite spot. But it becomes a problem when you’re eating out multiple times a week and using fast food as a substitute for cooking for yourself while your budget goals suffer.

So instead of hitting up a drive-thru tonight, go to your local grocery store and buy some fresh ingredients. It doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy. Ground beef and pasta or chicken curry with rice are both great (and tasty) ways to start. Check out some online recipes and try some new dishes!

Just trying these three simple things can put you ahead of the curve. They might seem small, but you’ll take a huge step forward to financial independence. Choose one of these actions and try it out today!

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¹ “Here’s how many Americans have nothing at all in savings,” Ester Bloom, CNBC Make It, Jun 19 2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/19/heres-how-many-americans-have-nothing-at-all-in-savings.html

² “Americans spend over $1,000 a year on lotto tickets,” Megan Leonhardt, CNBC Make It, Dec 12 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/12/americans-spend-over-1000-dollars-a-year-on-lotto-tickets.html

³ “The Lottery: Is It Ever Worth Playing?,” Investopedia, Jan 27, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/managing-wealth/worth-playing-lottery/

⁴ “Don’t Eat Out as Often,” Trent Hamm, The Simple Dollar, April 13, 2020, https://www.thesimpledollar.com/save-money/dont-eat-out-as-often/#:~:text=What%20kind%20of%20money%20are,Again%2C%20that’s%20reasonable.

November 30, 2020

4 Insights Into Paying Off Debt

4 Insights Into Paying Off Debt

On paper, paying off debt seems simple. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.

In fact, it can get downright discouraging if you don’t see any progress on your balances, especially if you feel like your finances are already stretched.

Fortunately, there are ways to take your debt escape plan to the next level. Here are a few insightful tips for anyone who feels like their wheels are spinning.

You must create a plan <br> Planning is one of the most important steps towards eliminating debt. Studies show that creating detailed plans increases our follow-through.¹ It also frees up our mental resources to focus on other pressing issues.²

Those are essential components of overcoming debt. A plan helps you stick to your guns when you’re tempted to make an impulse buy on your credit card or consider taking that last-minute weekend trip. And tackling problems that have nothing to do with debt can be a breath of fresh air for your mental health.

You have to stop borrowing <br> Seems obvious, right? But it might be easier said than done. Credit cards can seem like a convenient way to cover emergency expenses if you’re strapped for cash. Plus, spending money can feel therapeutic. Kicking the habit of borrowing to buy can be hard!

That’s why it’s so important to fortify your financial house with an emergency fund before you start eliminating debt. Save up enough money to cover 3 months of expenses. Then quit borrowing cold turkey. You should always have enough cash in reserve to cover car repairs and doctor visits without using your credit card.

Your lifestyle has to change <br> But, as mentioned before, debt can embed itself into lifestyles. You can’t get rid of debt without cutting back on spending, and you can’t cut back on spending without transforming your lifestyle.

When you’re making your escape plan, identify your highest spending categories. How important are they to your quality of life? Some of them might be essential. But you may realize that others exist just out of habit. Be willing to sacrifice some of your favorite activities, at least until you’re debt free.

You can still do the things you want <br> This does NOT mean that you have to be miserable. You can still enjoy a vacation, buy an awesome gadget, or treat your partner to a romantic dinner. You just have to prepare for those events differently.

Create a “fun fund” that you contribute money to every month. Budget a specific amount to put in it and dedicate it to a specific item. This allows you to have some fun every now and then without derailing your journey to financial freedom.

Debt doesn’t have to be overwhelming. These insights can help you stay the course as you eliminate debt from your financial house and start pursuing your dreams. Let me know if you’re interested in learning more about debt-destroying strategies!

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¹ “Making the Best Laid Plans Better: How Plan-Making Prompts Increase Follow-Through,” Todd Rogers, Katherine L. Milkman, Leslie K. John and Michael I. Norton, Behavioral Science and Policy, 2016, https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/todd_rogers/files/making_0.pdf

² “The Power of a Plan,” Timothy A Pychyl Ph.D., Psychology Today, Nov 17, 2011, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dont-delay/201111/the-power-plan

November 18, 2020

The Most Important Retirement Rule

The Most Important Retirement Rule

The best way to determine your retirement target savings is to use your income.

Here’s why.

Almost nobody wants to work 40 hours a week in retirement. Not you, not me. To avoid that, you must have money at your disposal to cover expenses like food, travel, and medical bills.

But how much do you need?

There’s a 38% chance that if you retire at 65 you will live to 85, and a 5% chance that you’ll make it to 95.¹ That means you’ll need enough cash to cover at least 20 years of life with no income.

This is where your paycheck comes into play.

Aiming to save 20 to 30 times your income helps prepare you to maintain your current lifestyle into retirement. You might even have extra spending money if you’re debt free!

Plus, it forces you to scale your savings as your income grows.

Setting a goal based solely on how much you want to spend in retirement can result in lowering your savings goal. You might splurge more now, telling yourself that you’ll just live on less later. But you’re cheating your future self!

Using your income as a retirement benchmark forces you to increase your savings amount as your paycheck grows. Let’s say you make $80,000 annually and you start saving. Your goal is to stash away 20 times your income, or about $1.6 million.

After a while, you’re able to save 5 years worth of earnings, or about $400,000.

But then you get a raise! Suddenly you’re making $100,000 per year. Your retirement target shifts up accordingly to $2 million. That $400,000 you have in the bank is a hefty slice of cash, but it’s now only worth 4 years of income instead of 5.

In other words, basing your saving around your income actually encourages you to save more as your income increases.

The best thing about this method is that it focuses on the most important part of retiring—to sustain the lifestyle that you envision. Meet with a licensed financial professional to map out what that would look like for you and how much you must save to make that vision a reality.

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¹ “How Long Will Your Retirement Really Last?,” Simon Moore, Forbes, Apr 24, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/simonmoore/2018/04/24/how-long-will-your-retirement-last/?sh=31a59fb37472

November 11, 2020

How Much Should You Pay For a Car?

How Much Should You Pay For a Car?

Cars will drain your wealth.

In 2019, Americans were spending about $773.40 per month on their vehicles, or $9,281 annually.¹ That’s like owning a tiny house whose value nosedives the instant you buy it!

That’s not even counting the opportunity cost of throwing that money at a car. How much could that cash grow if it were invested or saved?

That’s why you should follow this simple rule for guarding your wealth from a car.

It’s called the 20/4/10 rule, and it’s composed of three parts. Let’s explore them one by one.

Start with at least a 20% downpayment.

Committing a hefty downpayment to a car curbs how much you’ll lose in interest later down the road. It’s always best to cover as much as you can up front with cash.

Finance the car for no more than 4 years.

How long would you want to dump money into an “investment” that doesn’t grow in value? Not long! Keep your financing period short and sweet and then get back to saving for your future.

Dedicate no more than 10% of your income to car expenses.

Your cash flow is a powerful wealth building tool if it keeps, well, flowing. Don’t let a car divert it somewhere else that it won’t grow and won’t build wealth.

Remember, this is not a bulletproof strategy.

You might be facing substantial mortgage or credit card debt obligations that make it difficult to afford the car you want. It’s always a good idea to meet with a licensed financial professional before you commit to buying a new vehicle.

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¹ “Average American Now Spends Nearly $800 A Month On Their Car,” Angel Sergeev, Motor1.com, Sep 13, 2019, https://www.motor1.com/news/370609/average-american-monthly-car-spendings/#:~:text=More%20precisely%20%2D%20%24773.50%20a%20month.&text=According%20to%20the%20AAA%20research,equals%20to%20%24773.50%20a%20month.

October 19, 2020

When Education Isn't Worth It

When Education Isn't Worth It

After room and board, a degree from a private university costs $46,950 per year.¹

A public university charges less than half that, with an annual price tag of $20,770.² That’s over double what it was in 1980 after adjusting for inflation.³ Why the sharp increase? Part of the answer is that demand has skyrocketed over the past 40 years. An information age requires knowledgeable, highly-skilled workers, and getting a degree is the traditional way of meeting those criteria. Rising demand has occurred alongside a steady decline in state funding for public education. One report found that 79% of tuition increases stemmed from such cuts.⁴

But there’s always been an assumption, despite the ballooning costs of higher education, that attending university would be worth it. Afterall, graduates almost always earn more than their peers.⁵ It’s an investment in a future income, right?

The diminishing returns of a degree <br> But that old model is simplistic at best. College simply doesn’t pay off for some graduates. Data demonstrates that the lowest earning college grads actually earn less than their highschool educated counterparts. ⁶ They actually lost income by going to university! It makes sense when you do the math. Going into crippling debt to get a speech and drama degree only earns you about $28,300 after graduation. ⁷ And the huge supply of highly-educated workers has put pressure on once prosperous careers. For example, more people graduate from expensive law schools in the United States than there are job openings for attorneys. ⁸ Sure, there’s 6-figure potential there if you can land a job, but you’re competing with dozens of other qualified prospects. It’s easy to see why people have become so cynical about higher education.

Simple solutions? <br> Overall, there are certainly times when a college degree is not worth the time and treasure. Spending 12 years at a private institution to get a doctorate in an obscure field with low pay and a brutal job market? There are probably more profitable ways to spend your time. But overall, there are numerous degrees that may still pay off; the average Bachelor’s degree is worth around $2.8 million over a lifetime. ⁹ But you must plan strategically. It all comes down to how you reduce the cost of your education and maximize your upside potential post-graduation.

Narrow your search to only include public schools in your state. Do as much research on scholarships and apply for as many as possible. Live with your parents to cut down on room and board costs. Take a gap year of work between your bachelors and masters degree. And do some research on job opportunities in the field before you get a diploma. You might decide that going into debt to become a petroleum engineer is a better investment than signing your life away to the humanities!

If you’re a parent, start planning your child’s higher education today. That will involve choosing the right schools and encouraging them to work hard and love learning. But you must also provide them with a steady financial foundation to pursue their dreams. Helping them get a degree debt-free might empower them to study their passions instead of chasing paychecks to fight off loans. There are financial products on the market designed to help you save for your child’s future, no matter what level of education they decide to pursue. Let’s schedule a time to meet and we can discuss your options in detail!

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¹ Hillary Hoffower, “College is more expensive than it’s ever been, and the 5 reasons why suggest it’s only going to get worse,” Business Insider, JunE 26, 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/why-is-college-so-expensive-2018-4

² Hoffower, “College is more expensive than it’s ever been,” Business Insider

³ Hoffower, “College is more expensive than it’s ever been,” Business Insider

⁴ Abigail Hess, “The cost of college increased by more than 25% in the last 10 years—here’s why,” CNBC, Dec 13 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/13/cost-of-college-increased-by-more-than-25percent-in-the-last-10-years.html

⁵ Anthony P. Carnevale, Ban Cheah, Andrew R. Hanson, “The Economic Value Of College Majors: Executive Summary,” Georgetown University Center On Education And The Workforce, 2015, https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Exec-Summary-web-B.pdf

⁶ Emma Kerr, “Is College Worth the Cost?,” U.S. News & World Report, June 17, 2019, https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/2019-06-17/is-college-worth-the-cost

⁷ Alison Doyle, “Average College Graduate Salaries: Expectations vs. Reality,” The Balance, June 6, 2020, https://www.thebalance.com/college-graduate-salaries-expectations-vs-reality-4142305

⁸ “Occupational Outlook Handbook, Lawyers” Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Sept 1, 2020 https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm#tab-6

⁹ Anthony P. Carnevale, Stephen J. Rose and Ban Cheah, “The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings” Georgetown University Center On Education And The Workforce, 2011, https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/the-college-payoff/

October 7, 2020

How To Talk To Your Spouse About Money

How To Talk To Your Spouse About Money

Family finances isn’t always a fun topic.

But getting in the habit of discussing money early on in your relationship may help pave the way for a smoother future. Whether or not you see eye to eye, learning each other’s spending habits and budgeting styles can help avoid any financial obstacles in the future. Below are some tips on getting started!

Talk about money regularly <br> One of the best ways to approach a conversation about money is to decide in advance when you’re going to have it, rather than springing it on your spouse out of the blue. Family budgeting means making the time to talk upfront and staying transparent about it on a consistent basis. If you and your spouse choose to set a monthly or annual budget, commit to sitting down and reviewing family expenses at the end of each month to see what worked and what didn’t.

Start a budget <br> It’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you don’t have a family budget and don’t know where to start. However, with the development of mobile applications and online banking, you can now more easily track your spending habits to find ways to cut unnecessary expenses. For example, if you see that you’re going out to dinner most nights, you can try replacing one or two of those evenings out with a home cooked meal. Small changes to your routine can make saving easier than you might have thought!

Remember your budgeting goals <br> Budgeting comes down to a simple question—how will these money decisions affect the happiness of my family? For example, you might need to ask yourself if taking an awesome vacation to your favorite theme park will give your family more happiness than fixing your minivan from 2005. Can’t do both? You aren’t necessarily forgoing the vacation to fix your car; instead, you might need to invest in your car now rather than potentially letting a problem worsen. You might then decide to rework your budget to set aside more money every month to take the trip next year.

The key is that talking to your spouse about money may actually become more about talking to them about your goals and family. When you put it that way, it may be a much more productive and rewarding conversation!

Even if you haven’t discussed these things before you walked down the aisle, it’s never too late to sit down with your spouse. This topic will continue over time, so talking about your financials with your partner as you approach new milestones and experience different life events as a family can help you financially prepare for the future.

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